This double-fronted house in Northcote appears as one family home. In spite of this, for years it was rented out as two separate dwellings. One could be described as having a certain European 1950s sensibility with an added layer of 1970s shag-pile green carpet. The other dwelling was slightly more basic, smaller and set up as a one-person unit.

Project Name: Albie’s Northcote Renovation
Studio Name:
Rebecca Naughtin Architect
Completion date: 2011
Location: Northcote, Australia
Photography: Ben Hosking

Albie's Northcote Renovation by Rebecca Naughtin Architect - Sheet1
Kitchen ©Ben Hosking

It could have remained this way had the owners, a couple with two children, not returned from living in London. The clients were originally part owners in this house and on their return, they purchased the entire property and commissioned architect Rebecca Naughtin to ‘stitch the two into one’.

Unlike some clients who come to an architect with an exhaustive wish-list and a scrap book full of images torn out of magazines, the owners came with a relatively simple request: ‘one large open plan kitchen and living area’. They were also looking for sustainable design features, such as solar roof panels and hydronic heating, together with maximising the home’s orientation to the northern garden. Other things were teased out of the initial brief, including two bedrooms for the children that allowed them to also to have their own study areas.

Albie's Northcote Renovation by Rebecca Naughtin Architect - Sheet2
Courtyard ©Ben Hosking

While some people bring to a home furniture and objects, in this case, it was books, thousands of them, not surprisingly given one is a journalist. So pivotal to this renovation is the built-in book shelves, some built into the walls of the new timber staircase and others extending into the library. “The bookshelves were also a way of bringing what were two disparate dwellings together, as well as creating a ‘breathing space’ between the past and present,” says Naughtin. Knowing how important books are to the owners, Naughtin also created a plinth at the end of the staircase that doubles as additional seating.

The original Victorian home still remains intact, albeit being one dwelling, rather than two. There’s a study/office for the parents, a main bedroom and a bathroom leading from the front passage that doubles as a guest powder room. “These clients were looking for something that suited them rather than for ‘resale’. There was no desire to have an ensuite bathroom when they were quite happy to just cross a passage.”

Albie's Northcote Renovation by Rebecca Naughtin Architect - Sheet3
Bathroom ©Ben Hosking

As requested, the new kitchen, dining and living area is simple, but far from ‘basic’ (the words from the clients in their briefing). Extensive white MDF joinery and built-in shelves (again for additional books) create a relaxed and informal ambience. Generous sliding doors leading to a deck and a pergola adorned with camouflage netting (as used in the army) allows for dappled and soft light to permeate the living areas. The vegetable garden that frames the broad deck enables produce from the garden to be prepared on the kitchen bench.

Nothing is precious in this home, something that was in the minds of the architect and the clients, whose children would be approaching their teenage years. The children can also scribble reminders on the glass splashback in the kitchen, or write themselves notes as to what needs to be done that week. “It’s not pretentious. But you know it’s exactly the way our client’s live, both indoors and out, and best of all, it’s easy to maintain,” adds Naughtin.


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